During our early married life neither Tom or I gave God much thought. We were just living our lives. And then God used what we cared about most to get our attention.
Hannah had a terrible teacher in public school and nothing we tried solved the problem so halfway through kindergarten we switched her to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. Her religion teacher asked all the kids who went to Mass every Sunday. Almost all the kids raised their hands. Hannah didn't. Mrs. McDaniel told those children that they needed to go home and tell their parents that they should be going to Mass every week. Dutifully Hannah passed the message. There is no one for knowing black from white and "yes" from "no" like a kindergartener. She didn't buy our feeble excuses and started quoting her religion lessons to us. Pretty soon we were attending weekly Mass at St. Thomas.
Tom is Catholic but he hadn't attended church in a long time. I wasn't even sure if there was a God. How are you ever really sure? Most of the “proof” anyone ever offered seemed an awful lot like coincidence to me. But, I couldn't sit there week after week listening to Father B. without starting to wonder … is there a God or not?
I was so clever, I figured out a sure fire way to find out. (I'll just say here that I am thankful God protects fools because looking back I can't believe I had such nerve!) About a year before, we had tried everything to sell our house. Even though the realtor said everything was just right and there should have been no problem, no one would even make an offer. So, kneeling at Mass one day, I made God a deal. All He had to do was to get a me a new house as a sign. Then I’d know He was there … and I’d have a new house.
Of course, nothing happened. Except, that because I had made that deal I found myself listening more carefully at Mass and thinking even more. After about a year had gone by, when we were kneeling at Mass one Sunday, I told God the deal was off. I didn't need proof. It wasn't because of any dramatic feeling or discovery. I just didn't have a reason not to believe anymore so I went ahead and took His existence on faith.
That week our new accountant found major errors in the past three years' taxes that gave us a huge refund ... $11,000 ... enough for a down payment on a new house, new furniture and some remodeling. In a time when houses were being bought within days of going on the market, we found a house that had been sitting on the market for months for no apparent reason … except it was perfect for us and the price just been lowered to exactly the amount we could afford. Two weeks after that our house was sold without ever going on the market ... to a girl who was determined to have a house with our exact specifications, only within a six block area that we were right in the middle of. All the realtors and the people at the title company individually marveled at how smooth and fast things went on the sale of our old house and the purchase of our new one. They all said they had never seen anything like it.
I don't believe in coincidence any more.
Now I had faith but I didn't see any reason to become Catholic. Hannah and Rose had their First Communions and Tom went to confession and started taking communion again. I didn't mind sitting in the pew until they got back. But, over time, whenever everyone went for communion I developed a yearning for the Eucharist that became an actual physical ache. This went on for months. A few weeks before Easter I decided I’d better find out how to become Catholic because I couldn't stand it any more. I couldn't believe it when I found out I would have to wait about a year before completing RCIA and entering the Church the next Easter. That was the longest year of my life, although I found RCIA to be an interesting spiritual journey in itself ... which I did not expect. I think it is funny that I am such a reader (and have been my whole life) but God chose to reach me in a way that was totally outside books at all.
Finally it was the Easter Vigil of 2000, the wonderful day when I was Catholic and could have the Eucharist. I love it. I love the traditions, I love the saints, I love the Eucharist … I love being Catholic. (That was about 6 years after I told God I believed in Him.)
And God blessed me that day in a way that I will never forget.
When I was kneeling after Communion I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my father-in-law smiling at me as he walked toward the altar. He had not been to communion since the 1960s when Vatican II changes made him so mad that he turned his back on the Church altogether. Tom’s devout mother and his aunts had been praying for many, many years for his return to the faith so I was thrilled to see him take communion. His sister, Tom’s aunt, was my sponsor and she hissed in my ear, “Has he been to confession?” I was so happy I just said, “That’s between him and God. Let it go.”
Later Tom’s mother said that my father-in-law told her that if I had decided to become Catholic it was because I had thought about it thoroughly and knew it was the right thing to do. That was when he decided to come back to the Church. And, yes, he had been to confession. He had carefully planned to have his return to communion be at my confirmation. He had gone before they left Houston. For my father-in-law to show such total respect of my decision to become Catholic by rethinking his faith was overwhelming. Even more overwhelming was the realization that God had used my conversion not just for my good but to reach someone close to me ... and I had been totally unaware of it.
One of the things that made my conversion so powerful to me in retrospect is that it was done without any reading or influence from outsiders at all. This was all just between God and me. No one else's opinion was even solicited as I really didn't talk about that sort of thing. (I know a bunch of people probably wish I was still that way!) One of my confirmation gifts was a book by Scott Hahn that started me down a whole new path of reading. I had no idea anyone wrote books about this stuff! I devoured Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Francis Sheed, books about the saints, everything I could get my hands on ... and so on to the CRHP retreat and so on to Happy Catholic ... and here I am today, waiting to see where He's gonna take me next on this wild, but very interesting ride.
Julie blogs at Happy Catholic. She discusses popular books and movies from a Catholic perspective with Scott Danielson at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Her Forgotten Classics podcast currently is focusing on the Book of Genesis. Her new book, Happy Catholic, will be published in April by Servant Publishing.